Hydrology and salinity regimes of many impounded wetlands are manipulated to provide seasonal habitats for migratory waterfowl, with little-known consequences for ecosystem structure and function. Managed hydrology can alter ecosystems by directly changing soil properties and processes and by influencing plant community dynamics. Additionally, management history may influence ecosystem response to disturbance, including fires. To better understand how wetland management regime influences ecosystem response to disturbance, we quantified elevation, soil nitrogen concentrations and process rates, and plant community structure and diversity in a natural experiment following the 2018 Branscombe Fire. We measured paired burned-unburned patches in both tidally-influenced and managed, seasonally-impounded wetlands in Suisun Marsh, California, USA. Unburned ecosystem structure and nutrient cycling differed by wetland management history; unburned impounded wetlands were ∼1 m lower in elevation and plant community composition was dominated by succulents whereas the unburned tidal wetland was dominated by graminoids. Unburned impounded wetland soil nitrogen cycling (potential nitrification and denitrification) rates were <28% of those measured in unburned tidal wetland soils and soil extractable nitrate, ammonium, and dissolved inorganic phosphorus concentrations were also substantially lower in unburned impounded than unburned tidal wetlands. Despite these differences in pre-disturbance (i.e., unburned) conditions, all soil processes recovered to baseline levels within 6 months after surface fire, and we found no evidence of plant community change 1 year after fire in either wetland management type. Overall, water management history exerted stronger control on ecosystem processes and structure than surface fire disturbance. Low extractable soil nitrate and potential denitrification rates may indicate limitation of soil nitrogen removal in impounded wetlands, with implications for downstream environmental quality and eutrophication across managed landscapes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Engineering
- Waste Management and Disposal
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law